Ukraine says Russia freed 215 Ukrainians arrested after Mariupol battle

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Sept 21 (Reuters) – Russia has freed 215 Ukrainians, including top military leaders, held captive after a protracted battle for the port city of Mariupol earlier this year, a senior official in Kyiv said on Wednesday.

Among the freed prisoners were the commander and deputy commander of the Azov battalion, which did most of the fighting, said Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office.

The move was unexpected, as pro-Russian separatists last month said they would prosecute Azov workers, whom Moscow describes as Nazis. Ukraine denies the accusation.

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In a statement, Yermak said the freed prisoners included Azov commander Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko and his deputy Svyatoslav Palamar.

Also at large is Serhii Volynskyi, the commander of the 36th Marine Regiment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The trio helped lead weeks of resistance from bunkers and tunnels beneath Mariupol’s giant steelworks before they and hundreds of other Azov fighters surrendered to Russian-backed forces in May.

In response, Yermak said Kiev released 55 Russian prisoners and the leader of a banned pro-Russian party, Viktor Medvechuk, who was facing treason charges.

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Public broadcaster Suspline said the exchange took place near the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that Russia had released 10 foreign prisoners of war captured in Ukraine following mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. read more

Last month, the head of the Russian-backed separatist administration in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk said the trial of captured Azov personnel would take place by the end of the summer. read more

The Azov faction, created in 2014 to fight Russian-backed separatists, denies fascism and says Ukraine has reformed from its ultra-nationalist origins.

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Reporting by David Lungren Editing by Alistair Bell and Rosalpa O’Brien

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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